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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Go, Obama, go!

All day long, in between attending to sundry household chores and doing what I do 340 days a year to make a living, I have been watching the TV and surfing the Net to follow the coverage of Barack Hussein Obama’s spectacular and epoch-making electoral victory.

While he has all my most earnest admiration and good wishes for his Presidency, here are a few things that I have been thinking about:

1. It is for no flimsy reason that America and the world are equally breathless today: the USA has at last made good on the most fundamental promise of the world’s first (and arguably grandest) written constitution, and on Lincoln’s ideal, and on Martin Luther King’s dream – and they couldn’t have found a better man to personify and energise the whole thing. They finally have a black man in the world’s most powerful office. I hope they have a woman there soon, too.

2. Obama’s campaign was the most expensive, the most intense, the most inclusive, and perhaps the longest that America has ever seen. On top of that, the man’s personal charisma has been truly awesome – in the original and not current grossly cheapened sense of the word (lots of normally staid and balanced people are now openly comparing him with JFK), and that has gone a very long way to swing the vote in a way that would have been unthinkable maybe even two decades ago (besides seeing a level of voter turnout that most pundits would have called unthinkable even a few weeks ago). One more proof, if proof was ever needed, that individuals matter, now as always in history.

3. As so many people have been pointing out, the President-elect, who has just announced that ‘change has come to America!’ will have an overflowing in-tray on his very first day in the Oval Office, and all of them problems of the stickiest and most urgent sort. He needs the whole world’s best wishes – if only because as things stand today, so much on the world depends on what happens to the US of A. I was listening to Barkha Dutt in Chicago talking about the enormous ‘burden of expectations’ on his shoulders, I have been listening to various experts gloomily warning that he has very few choices and very little room for manouevre, and very little time before the ecstatic dreams begin to sour, and Anand Mahindra the industrialist reminding everybody on NDTV that it will take incredible luck, talent, vision and energy to manage the intense racial (as well as rich-poor) polarisation that has happened in the process of this election – and no matter how much Obama himself or superstars like Oprah gush on TV that this is about all of America ('we are, and always will be, the United States of America'), and about change that everyone everywhere wants, there are very tough times ahead for the new President. The best thing going in his favour is that he seems to be so remarkably calm and unruffled and confident about what he is going to have to do. A man like that deserves the world’s best wishes, too.

4. I was much moved by the grace with which senator John McCain publicly conceded defeat. You need to be a truly big man, and it helps to live in a really nice society, to be able to do that sort of thing. I wish and pray that we Indians learn a few lessons about how to live public lives in high places from this example (I am reminded of how prime minister AB Vajpayee said after the terrorist attack on our Parliament house that where the leader of the Opposition – he meant Sonia Gandhi who had just rung him up – enquires anxiously after the PM’s health and safety, democracy is safe. I wish I could be so sure!)

5. I am as sure as any TV-expert that no big change is going to happen soon in connection with the US policy towards India. So if I am still so interested in this whole thing, it is because elite Indians love to talk about this country as the world’s biggest democracy, which therefore has 'natural and deep harmonies' with the way America thinks and acts. I hope a lot more of us reflect on how true that is!


NA said...

Dear Sir,

As always, it was a pleasure to read your blog this morning. I loved your post on Obama and I am glad some one mentioned McCain's speech as well - it truly was a very gracious and from-the-heart speech. I liked the fact that he emphasized on Obama's ability to make this a grass-roots movement of sorts where like you said, individuals mattered. This was an important part of the Obama campaign and was probably one of the positive things that emerged from the entire electoral process.
On the other hand, I also thought Obama's speech was very well crafted. It had a soothing effect of sorts on the all hype and euphoria that had, and rightly so, built up around his campaign and his ultimate electoral victory. It was nice to see that Obama was not carried away by the moment but was focussed on the future and all the tough days that lie ahead. And he made sure, that the people understand this, loud and clear.
As you and my programme director here and many others have said, it will take a lot for Obama to succeed and right now, the expectations are so high that it will be very difficult for him to pass the test.
I sincerely hope that the American people and indeed, people around the world give him the time and space and support that he needs for "change to come to America".


Suvro Chatterjee said...

For a very sober, informed, but still happy and hopeful comment, read Mukul Kesavan in today's The Telegraph:

Chanchal said...

That was a good read, Sir.
To understand politics, one needs to be intelligent as well as patient, and since I don't manage any of them well, I stay out of the mess.
However, Obama's victory made me happy, his final speech was terrific!

Lastly, may the good God bless us and even our President one day, be extended such wonderful appreciation.

Shilpi said...

My previous long comment disappeared, so this one will have to do.
1. I read Mukul Kesavan’s article early on today, right after I logged on – and I couldn’t help but grin my way through it, for there is in a sense an absolute emotional response to Obama’s victory, which somehow doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the intellectual response (for there are many who know that no miracles will come about overnight, and may never come at all). Yet you wrote in that essay “On Time” that speed is probably not the most crucial element for good things to happen – so who knows maybe miracles may come about through the course of Obama’s Presidency. And in some ways one can’t help but cheer on Obama as being a “miracle” himself. As we joked in class yesterday – if the world’s population had had a vote on this one – Obama would’ve won six months ago.

2. You’re absolutely right. There couldn’t have been a better man to personify and energise the American ideal. And if ever there is a woman with something akin to Obama’s spirit, and one who can energise the apathetic masses the way Obama has done (Indiana voted Blue this time around, and in Tippecanoe County alone, there were approximately 7000 more voters who appeared for the elections as compared to the 2004 turnout. He even got someone like me interested in the election!) – then I’m all for it. Otherwise I wouldn’t be too hopeful (going by the other women candidates that the U.S had this time around….)

3. You’re right about Obama’s absolute charisma as well. Inspite of everything that he may or may not do – one cannot but see that he has a presence, and apart from being an extremely confident, articulate and electrifying speaker (points! He uses points!) – he has that rare quality of being able to evoke trust and of being able to make people believe that good things can happen (and that he can bring them about), and he certainly does come across as being very calm and self-assured. I remember early on this year that some folks were saying that he was “too Black” for The White House (!) and that others were saying that he wasn’t “Black enough” – indicating that Obama hardly shared the same history as African-Americans in terms of their common legacy of oppression and injustice. Obama deflected the last one pretty well, saying that he jolly well knew he was Black every time a police car pulled up too close! And then of course there was the other outburst about him being a Muslim – God forbid! Obama threw that one out of the window pretty quickly, pointing out that he was related to the same “Church” for the last twenty years. Wasn’t it Mukul Kesavan who had that marvelous article in which he said that there was a humongous sigh of relief that went around among Obama supporters and even “semi-supporters” with that admission? People were relieved that Obama was related to a Church. Even a “radical” Black church was fine – any Church was fine. As long as Obama wasn’t Muslim!

4. Obama does indeed enter at a sticky, sticky time. With two war-torn countries, not to mention the economic crisis – he’s got enough on his plate to keep him busy for awhile. If the debates are anything to go by, he’s already pointed out that “sacrifices” must be made, that Americans can’t go back to their “profligate ways” (!) even after getting out of the current economic slump, and that all “of us”, living beyond “our” means would “have to embrace a culture of ethics and responsibility” (whew!). In addition, he does seem to be intent on cutting down on greenhouse gas emissions, in dealing with the energy crisis as well as the environmental crisis in general. Folks here are also expecting some tax cuts for the middle class and the lower classes, something that Obama has promised (and something that McCain did indeed almost snigger about with a repetitive “Senator Obama wants to take away from Joe the Plumber and spread it out”). Maybe some improvements may come about in the realm of healthcare as well – although I can’t help feeling rather skeptical about this one. But I guess one can hope (although seriously, what in heaven’s same do I expect from the whole thing?!) and wish him the very best. God knows though that Clinton, when in office, had helped expand the U.S economy in some real terms (unemployment rates dropped to the lowest in 40 years. One can read up the bits on GNP and related stuff), and it took Bush 8 years to take the United States into the worst economic recession since The Great Depression, (and this recession of course if it does roll off the hill will be rather disastrous for the whole world – and not just the United States!). So maybe, who knows, individuals (even Presidents?!) can make a difference, and of course I’m not talking in economic terms alone. Funnily enough (?) it’s also being said that if the U.S economy had fallen into the pit post-elections – a very different “Horse” would have been walking into The White House.

5. My advisor too was very touched by John McCain’s concession speech. In fact it was one of the second things he mentioned right after saying that for people like him who had lived through the middle decades of the 20th century, Obama’s victory meant quite something.

6. I think I’ll wrap up this inordinately long comment for now. Needless to say Suvro da – I am very glad that you put up your post. I was checking every half-an-hour or so yester’ to see whether you’d put anything up on Obama.
Thank you and regards,

Asima said...

Dear Sir,
It was nice to read the post on Barack Obama. Its very true that he has a tough task ahead of him not only because of the serious economic situation that America is in but also since a vast majority of people who would otherwise not care, took the trouble to stand in long queues to vote for him only because his skin colour matched theirs. Obviously their expectations from him will be very high and I sincerely hope that he can make them realize over a period of time that what they really need to fight against is not racial bias but the lack of confidence in themselves.
Personally I was rather overawed at the tremendous energy that both Obama and McCain exuded during the campaign. One cannot help but salute the spirit of a seventy two year old with permanent war injuries who showed no signs of age over the long and grueling campaign. I dream of a day when we will have such positive and energetic leaders.

Subhasis Graham Mukherjee said...

Hi Suvro,

A superb blog on this historic moment.

It was very emotional and touching to see almost all African Americans including Rev. Jesse Jackson weeping throughout the victory celebration and speech.


Tanmoy said...

Dear Suvroda

With due respect to Obama, the frenzy that surrounded his campaign, the heaps of expectations on him, media publicity of his speeches all around the world, only shows how much people all across the globe are looking forward a statesman-like political figure.

It is good to feel as if people have woken up but it is also sad that people have so few to choose from and look forward to.

Indeed Obama has promised a lot but I hope these expectations should work as his impetus, and the word "change" should not entirely remain a tag-line for him.

The wars, world financial crisis, should enable him to display his credentials and they are not so bad for his presidency as it may appear. At least he has something to do to create something positive.

Though I have my doubts whether people lauded praises on Obama because they hated Bush.

As of now, I appreciate the qualities and his win but I shall view him with little bit of skepticism and wait until he delivers.

Tanmoy said...

I have not watched this program as yet (http://www.ndtv.com/convergence/ndtv/video/video.aspx?id=43606), but I am happy that such a discussion is on at least!

wannabe said...

In a world replete with several bad losers, McCain's speech exemplified what a good loser he was. I am glad you mentioned it.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Thanks for the comment, but I cannot possibly address you as 'wannabe', can I? Do please let me know your name: at least by email, if you want to keep it private.

Samir said...

I had the privilege of following the entire election, presidential and primaries, from the heartland. And one thing surely comes out well.. That personalities still matter though you need to have a solid team behind all endeavours.. Obama's speech after losing the Ne-hampshire primaries to Hillary Clinton was trully awe inspiring.. It was a visionary speech, Something which people across the world, tired of political wranglings plaguing their countries would love to hear..His outright rejection about talking on Palin's family crisis bears testament of a leader with high morality.. But McCain was not behind too, when he rejected gossips about Obama not being a true American with his half muslim lineage.. But what made the biggest differences were 1) Anti-incumbency 2) Call for 'Change' 3) Obama's appeal among youth and 4) The Obama team.. Lets look at the Obama team.. The incredible way their harnessed the voice and energy of the young generations through internet - credit that goes to David Plouffe, Campaign Manager. The amazing amount of money that they raised from average Americans, the door to door campaign that they ran throughout America ,, all put together with the magnetic personality of Obama was too hard to beat for Republicans. And above all Obama made Common Man the Hero.. So from beginning till the end, he consistently reminded the people ( u can call it a election strategy)that its about 'you'. 'You' have the power to bring change.. and thus the people so easily identified with him..
Also there is lot to learn from the way he handled direct attacks on his, in-experience, controversial connections with ease, comfort and a peaceful attitude.. He was never excited, never angry, grumpy about all the things thrown at him..
Though I would not say that I totally believe that he can and will bring in the 'change' he so much strongly advertised for. I would love that to happen but not yet convinced that it will happen given the deep roots of malaise plauging the system.. I would also tend to think that for generations politicians had lived on this favourite slogan of 'Change' and Obama might be another skillful personality who played his cards right in terms of hitting the right points and he hit the iron when it was hot.. when the economy is spiralling downward, jobs are being lost left and right,, corporations closing down and people unable to afford healthcare.. His ideas are great no doubt.. But how will be do it? And how much of political risk he will take to achieve his manifesto? Thats what I am interested to follow..
But certainly its heartening to see that millions of white men and women , so easily identified with Obama and made him their own candidate.. they laughed and cried with him.. Thats incredible!! And that racial unity is the biggest and the strongest takeaway from the American election..

Shilpi said...

Can't help say that it was mighty good re-visiting this post of yours. These last some days I started wondering and even worrying what was going to happen. But yes, Obama's back for a second term and that spells a better spell than what might have been, and I am relieved even if I didn't keep up with the matter this year.